From Wilfred Owen's correspondance to his mother Susan Owen, January 19, 1917: "No Man's Land is pock-marked like a body of foulest disease and its odour is the breath of cancer... No Man's Land under snow is like the face of the moon chaotic, crater-ridden, uninhabitable, awful, the abode of madness."

When my mother was a little girl she made a Monopoly set (because they couldn't afford to buy one - ironic piece of work that) but while reconstructing it from memory goofed on the spacing and ended up with more spaces on the board than there were properties. These, she dubbed No Man's Land. They could not be bought and incurred no bonus or penalty, which by the end of the game is actually quite nice.

During World War I, No Man's Land was the term used by soldiers to describe the ground between two opposing trenches. Its width along the Western Front could vary depending on the battlefied. The average distance in most sectors was about 250 yards. At Guillemont, it was only about 50 yard but at Cambrai, it was over 500 yards. The narrowest gap was at Zonnebeke where British and German soldiers were only about seven yards apart.

No Man's Land usually contained a considerable amount of barbed wire. In the area's most likely to be attacked, there were ten belts of barbed wire just before the front line trenches. In some places, the wire was more than 100 feet thick.

If the area had seen a lot of action, No Man's Land would be full of broken and abandoned military equipment. After an attack, No Man's Land would also contain a large number of bodies. Needless to say, advancing across No Man's Land was difficult. No only did the soldiers have to avoid being shot or blown up, they had to contend with the barbed wire and water filled shell holes.

Only occassionally did soldiers have to resort to full scale attack across No Man's Land. Usually they were ordered into the area to obtain information about the enemy. When an artillery shell landed just in front of an enemy trench, soldiers were often ordered to take control of the shell hole and try and spy on the enemy.

Small patrols were also sent out to obtain information about the enemy. Usually, they would go out at night. they would have to crawl forward on their stomachs in an attempt to find out what the enemy was planning. If possible, they would try and capture and enemy sentry and bring them back for interrogation. To stop the British night patrols, the Germans used a light shell rocket that was suspended from a parachute and illuminate the area for a minute or so. This would give the defending troops a chance to kill the soliders who had advanced into No Man's Land.

A letter home from one Second Lieutenant, H. E. Cooper to his parents explained what a trip to No Man's Land was like:

"I was asked to take out a patrol of seven men: duties -get out to the position of the German listening post, wait for their patrol and 'scupper' it; also discover what work is being done in their trenches. I choose my favourite corporal and my six most intelligent and courageous men.

Bayonets are examined to se if they slip out of the scabbard noiselessly; my revolver is nicley oiled; all spare and superfluous parts of equipment are left behind.

As soon as the dusk is sufficiently dark, we get out into the front of the trenches by climbing up on to the parapet and tumbling over as rapidly as possible so as not to be silhoutted against the last traces of sunset. Every man knows that he has probably seen his last sunset, for this is the most dangerous thing in war. Out we walk through the barbed wire entanglement zone through which an approaching enemy must climb, but we have a zigzag path through the thiry yards or so of prickly unpleasantness; this path is known only to a few. The night has become horribly dark already, and the stillness of the night is broken only by the croaking of frogs, the hoot of an owl and the boom of distant guns in the south.

We all advance slowly and carefully, wriggling along through the grass for a hundred yards or so, past the two lines of willow trees and across the stream, now practically dry. There we lie and wait and listen. For an hour we lie in absolute silence. It is a weary game and extremely trying to one's nerves, for hearing and sight are strained to the utmost. Tiny noises are magnified a hundredfold - a rat nibbling at the growing corn or a rabbit scuttling along gives us the jumps until we learn to differntiate the different sounds. In the German trenches we hear the faint hum of conversation. Nothing is to be heard near us, but there is a very ominous sign - no shots are being fired from the trenches in front of us, no flares are being sent up and there is no working party out. This points to only one thing and that is that they also have a patrol out.

Suddenly quite close to the corporal and myself there is a heavy rustling in the grass on the right. Now, if never before, I know the meaning of -is it fear? My heart thumps so heavily that they surely must hear it, my face is covered with cold perspiration and my revolver hammer goes back with a sharp click and my hand trembles."

A term used to describe a geographical region, either unclaimed by any state or strongly contested by two or more states. Usually applied to the area between warring forces along a front line. Sometimes used in situations when buffer zone might be more appropriate.

No man's land may also be no man's land because it is terra incognita, unexplored and hence unclaimed (because it is unknown). However, it is a matter of historical record that there have been many examples of states claiming as-yet-unexplored territory (excellent examples of these extremes being the Treaty of Tordesillas, or the status of East Greenland prior to 1933, or Svalbard prior to the Svalbard Treaty of 1920).

Man is by nature a political animal, and nature abhors a vacuum - a no man's land is generally a very unstable condition for territory. Sooner, or later, it is usually either claimed or conquered or both.

Related concepts: buffer state, buffer zone.

Other example(s): World War I, Wakhan.

Also, a storyline in the various Batman comics, including Batman and Detective Comics. (Also also, a novel based on that storyline written by Greg Rucka. This writeup is based more upon the novel than the comics.)

Gotham has fallen upon some hard times, but the worst (at least as of this storyline) was the so-called Cataclysm -- a massive earthquake that more-or-less totaled the city. Apparently, Gotham is located on an island connected only to the rest of the United States by a couple of bridges and tunnels, sorta like Manhattan. The damage from the earthquake was so severe that, through circumstances not really revealed in the novel, Congress decided to just excommunicate the place, and kick it out of the country. (For hardcore DC Comics fans, note that this was before Lex Luthor became President.)

The Gotham that everyone knows and loves is completely cut off from the rest of the world. They blew up the bridges, planted land mines in the water, everything. Nothing goes in, nothing comes out.

And so Gotham is reduced to its own sort of anarchy. (Someone let all the inmates out of Arkham Asylum just before the bridges blew.) The Penguin is positively thriving, running a black market for just about everything. Robinson Park is the domain of Poison Ivy, and nobody who goes in comes out. More normal villains, in the form of street gangs, are taking over. The thousands of people that couldn't leave, or simply chose not to leave, are reduced to fighting and dying over things as simple as flashlights.

And the Batman has apparently skipped town.

Taking his place are: someone claiming to be Batgirl, which annoys the original Batgirl to no end; the Huntress, a less-disciplined vigilante; and a nameless mute girl with the obligatory checkered past who nevertheless still kicks much ass.

Subjective review: Well, it wouldn't be much of a Batman story unless the guy shows up eventually. Thus, the story ends up as a character study. Batman has long sworn to uphold the law; how does this apply in a place that has, literally, no law?

The novel's writing assumes, like most adaptations of comics, that you're already somewhat familiar with the characters, and so doesn't waste time on things like characters' appearances. While it's probably safe to assume that most people know what the Batman is supposed to look like, this sort of assumption isn't at all valid for many of the minor characters.

The above is a minor weakness; the major weakness is that, like a lot of sitcoms, at the end of the storyline, it doesn't seem like anything has really changed. Batman is still Batman, The Joker is still a kook, Gotham's still got the highest crime rate in the DC Universe, et cetera, et cetera. (Of course, if you change things too much, you end up with that "Superman's new costume" fiasco from a few years back.)

On the other hand, I got the book for three bucks in the remainders bin at Barnes and Noble. For that price, it wasn't a bad read at all.

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